Late season backpacking

Spring is getting nearer and our thoughts turn to backpacking options for the summer. But first, a quick throwback to a couple of trips from September 2015…

1. All set for the night – camping in the Barkley Valley

We’d heard many good things about this area and we were not disappointed. Well, except that our plan was to camp up in the alpine by the gorgeous lakes and not down here in the valley. However, we inadvertently made the right choice: it was so cold up at the lakes that we were much better off here!

See those slopes? They’re covered with wildflowers in the summer, which means that I have no choice but to return another day to see them in bloom.

2. Gorgeous green, lower Twin Lake

The colour of this lake completely took me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting such a gorgeous glacial green lake as no previous photo I’d seen showed that colour. Given that the lake wasn’t this colour on our return last year, I’m guessing that it was due to the melting snow washing lots of fine particles into the water.

Snow? What snow? According to the hunters who stayed in the cabin next to our tent, a weekday snowstorm had dropped about 50-60 cm of snow in the valley! In our planning for this trip we hadn’t reckoned on that, so it was a good thing that it all melted before we arrived. And it contributed to the beauty of this lake, especially in contrast against the red rocks shown in the photo below.

The upper lake is just beyond the pass at the top of this photo. There’s a sporadic trail that leads up through a lovely meadow, across the aptly-named Crystal Creek which tumbles down the waterfall seen across the lake, and over some boulders to a more spacious bowl. A little less dramatic than this, perhaps, but I liked it because it really reminded me of the Lake District in the UK.

3. Steep slopes around lower Twin Lake. Glad I rediscovered this photo as it doesn’t work as a square.

When I joined Instagram in mid-2015, it was limited to square photos, a feature I actually liked because it forced me to think differently about framing and cropping. Square photos can be exceptionally effective and are ideal for scenes with symmetry or strong geometry. Of course, most of the photos Maria and I take don’t work for Instagram as we try and fill the frame with our compositions. However, it was only a few months into my Instagram experiment that they started allowing alternative aspect ratios, which led me to re-examine a few photos. I was really pleased to find that I could squeeze this one onto the new format as it was no good as a square crop. It still loses a little of its presence, but retains enough, in my mind, to be quite effective.

Ideally I would have taken the scene from a greater distance to permit a square crop, but that’s really hard to do when you’ve just arrived at a new location. Furthermore, the scale of this area overwhelmed me: none of the photos I’d seen before had come anywhere near capturing the scale of the lakes. It’s really quite spectacular, and I posted a few photos from our revisit back in September 2017.

For more photos from 2015, take a look at our set on Flickr, or read some more about that trip on my hiking blog.

4. End of the day in Illal Meadows, Jim Kelly and Coquihalla Mountain in silhouette

As ever, a still photograph conveys nothing of what it was actually like to be in spot it was taken. What can’t be shown is the freezing cold, howling wind that caused us to rethink our attempt on Jim Kelly Peak. We were so very grateful for the shelter of the trees.

Despite being taken with my phone, I’m quite happy with the appearance of the shadows which I had to lift quite a bit. The colours on the side of Jim Kelly are a bit garish and the shadows are a bit blue, but overall it works to my eye. What I like most about this photo is the curve of the creek, which stands out clearly reflecting the blue sky.

Funnily enough, I didn’t take this scene with either of our SLRs as we were filtering water at the time, but my phone was in my pocket and as ever it’s the camera that’s on you that counts. However, I did take it the following morning. Alas the light was not as good… A lesson to learn there!


Icy blue

This week’s Throwback-Thursday theme is ice. Perhaps my favourite topics in physical geography is glaciology (volcanoes and meteorology come a close second) and so it was with some delight that I realized I could get close-up views of glacier while hiking in BC and Alberta. I had visited Chamonix for a conference (wow – 20 years ago now!) and had enjoyed seeing the snowy icecap of Mt Blanc and the Mer de Glace, but they were still quite distant. What I wanted was to be able to touch that blue ice, without necessarily getting into mountaineering. I found two ways to do just that.

1. Scale. A lucky shot, these 2 photographers were packing up as we got to this viewpoint. Taken in Aug 2009.

Our third trek into the Canadian Rockies and our second time stopping at the Athabasca Glacier. In 2008 we’d taken the coach tour out onto the glacier, which gave us the chance to step out onto the ice and even sample the delicious cold meltwater. A year later we spent a few days exploring along the Icefields Parkway, stopping off at the Athabasca Glacier once again, this time just walking to the toe past all the signposts marking its position in recent years.

As we turned to leave, I noticed these two just beginning to walk away after taking a few photos. I changed to the telephoto lens and quickly captured them against the freshly-revealed ice in the background where a chunk had calved off, leaving behind a sheer blue cliff. It remains once of my favourite glacier photos because it lends scale to the immensity of the ice.

2. Wedge Glacier, getting further away each year.

By the end of our first summer of hiking in Vancouver, we had improved our strength and stamina sufficiently to tackle the steep hike to Wedgemount Lake, the site of perhaps the most accessible glacier in the area. That day, our turnaround point was the campground next to the lake, though I now wish we had continued on to the glacier on account of it being much closer than it was in the above photo (taken in 2015). I never expected to witness glacial retreat in my lifetime let alone in just a decade of hiking in BC. I was shocked when I revisited in 2013, and even more so in 2015 where the combined effect of a mild, low-snow winter and a warm dry summer had led to a huge retreat in the Wedge Glacier.

Where only 2 years previously the glacier terminated in an ice cave and a small pool, now the glacier’s snout ended in a much larger lake – indeed, a new glacial lake forming. Still impressive to be so close to this river of ice, but sobering to witness its retreat.

3. Wedgemount Lake, always a stunning place to be.

Lastly, a wider shot of Wedgemount Lake looking towards the Wedge Glacier, again taken in 2015. On our first hike here in 2005, the glacier extended to the obvious rocky outcrop visible near the end of the glacier. In the 1970s, the glacier calved into the lake itself! And that colour – always such a treat to see.

For sure the lake and its surroundings look spectacular on a sunny day such as this. But one of my favourite visits was on a misty, cloudy day in 2011, the rocks dusted in their first skiff of snow. The lake glowed a sage green being the only colour in an otherwise mostly-monochrome scene. A beautiful sight! The other highlight of that day was seeing a mountain goat. 🙂

To hear the mountains Rohr

What else do you do after a 5-day backpacking trip? Why you go on another backpacking trip of course!

It rained all day as we walked out of the Lizzie-Stein divide, and the weather forecast wasn’t looking good for the rest of the week. Our friends had only booked off enough time to do the Lizzie-Stein trip, while we had another 5 days to fill. Feeling a bit fed-up with the weather, we washed and dried all our gear at the Pemberton Valley Lodge (which was an awesome place to stay, by the way), and had a leisurely morning grabbing some breakfast before stopping off at North Arm farm for some extra goodies.

We’d formed a plan to do a little car-camping road trip that would take us into the warmer and drier interior of BC, and had packed the car accordingly. But as we headed across the Duffey Lake Road, we noticed the clouds were clearing over the mountains. That prompted an abrupt change of plan and we pulled off the road, unpacked the car, spread out our tarp, and re-packed our backpacks for a 3-day adventure. We then headed up the road towards the Marriot-Rohr area and had a leisurely late-afternoon hike up to Rohr Lake which was home for the next two nights.

1. Clouds over Mt Currie, as seen from North Arm Farm after savouring some gelato on the swings 🙂

We’ve driven past North Arm Farm so many times before that we were really pleased we had an excuse to stop off and sample some of their goodies. We opted for some gelato that we consumed out in the back yard, and just enjoyed the view, feeling like we were on vacation.

2. Evening light on Rancherie reflected in Rohr Lake. We camped where I’m standing – that’s someone else’s tent 🙂

After a couple of easy hours hauling our packs up to the lake, we sat back and relaxed to watch the sunset. It was so quiet up there, and the water was perfectly still. The stars came out and we crawled into our tent.

3. The Joffre Group as seen from the summit of Mt Rohr.

The following day we set out to re-attempt Mt Rohr, a summit we’d had to turn back from a few years ago due to snow and time constraints. This day we had no such trouble and were thrilled to make it to the top. The view was just incredible, with the peaks of the Joffre Group rising up and dominating the skyline to our south. Mt Rohr instantly became one of our favourite summits.

4. Shades of green and blue.

I always enjoy looking into the next valley when I reach a pass or mountain summit. Here was no exception and we were greeted by this gorgeous pair of lakes, one green and fed by a pocket glacier, the other a deeper greeny-blue. Beyond lay the usual sea of mountains, and a glimpse of Duffey Lake itself. More reasons to love this area!

Seymour shadow selfie

A selfie of sorts – my shadow at the top of Pump Peak (First Peak) on Mt Seymour, looking over to Tim Jones Peak, Third Peak, and beyond to Garibaldi.

Another beautiful day in the mountains, and a mid-week chance to have the summit of Mt Seymour’s First Peak to myself – or so it appears, at least! But perhaps my favourite photos of the day were of patterns in the wind-scoured snow. Maybe I’ll post one or two of those later…

Lions in a frame

The Lions, framed at the north summit of Black Mountain.

Last Wednesday was a gorgeous blue-sky day and I couldn’t resist getting back out in the snow with my camera. The wind that greeted us at the north summit felt almost as cold as that in the Coquihalla at New Year and we quickly retreated to a nearby bump that retained a view of the Lions at least. And that’s when I saw the picture: the famous twin peaks were framed neatly between two snow-laden trees, and I had a nice foreground of smooth sunlit snow. Even the existing snowshoe tracks serve to frame the Lions.

Real sunshine

Dreaming of sunnier Saturdays in today’s liquid sunshine…

Looks like we’re back into the rainy season here in Vancouver. Time to look back at those glorious sunny days of summer to remind us that it’s not always grey! This photo was taken as we stirred on the second morning of our Cape Scott backpacking trip. The night before had been misty and drizzly, and after we’d come round in the morning, we were kept in the tent a little longer by a passing shower. But it wasn’t too long later that the clouds began to clear and we saw hints of blue sky that gradually turned into glorious sunshine. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and by lunchtime decided that we wanted to explore further, so we packed up our gear and hiked on to Guise Bay where we spent two lovely nights.

Brandywine Glacier

Another angle on the Brandywine Glacier from last Friday.

I’ve been following the progress of photographer Quentin Lake as he hikes the entire coastline of Britain, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing his photographs and what he makes of the landscape (and seascape) around him. His ability to find interesting shapes and patterns has inspired me to look for similar things when I’m outdoors. In particular he frequently manages to find angles and intersecting lines that make for visually striking photos. This photo of the edge of Brandywine Mountain and the glacier below is my attempt to mimic this style. It’s not perfect (the shadows are a bit distracting in my view), but I’m still pretty happy with it.